The Square Peg
Crewman Tal Celes entered the turbolift with an upright back and squared shoulders. "Bridge," she said to the computer, in a steady voice that held no trace of her inner nervousness.
Before the doors opened to the bridge, she ran a hand over her hair to smooth the already immaculate style, and checked the front of her uniform. It certainly wouldn't do to face Captain Janeway with the dried remains of her breakfast adorning the front.
The turbolift doors opened and she exited onto the bridge and hesitated, unsure of her direction. She had only been on the bridge a few times during Voyager's seven year journey, and the direction of the Captain's ready room was a bit of a mystery. She looked around her; faces were bent over consoles. The Captain was not in sight; only the Commander lounged in the pair of command chairs at the center of the bridge.
She started in the direction she felt the ready room must be, and missed her footing on the low pair of steps leading from the turbolift. The abrupt clatter of heels on the floor made many faces look up from their stations.
Celes felt she could gladly sink down through the deck plating. Her face burned red and she struggled to keep her composure and her eyes to the fore as she marched in what she thought was the correct direction.
A soft touch on her elbow halted her, and she swung around to find the gentle eyes of Ensign Kim.
"Allow me." Wordlessly he guided her in the opposite direction, leaving her with a smile at the door to the ready room. "It's okay," he whispered. "She doesn't bite."
Celes rang the chime and waited. The doors slid open and she saw the Captain busy at the replicator.
"Crewman Tal. Welcome. The Doctor tells me you are quite recovered from the unexpected turn our away mission took."
"Yes, thank you, Captain." Celes stood in the stiff formal posture, hands clasped behind her back, legs slightly apart.
"Can I get you something from the replicator?" The Captain held a steaming mug in her hand, and the rich roasted scent of coffee permeated the air.
"Thank you, Captain. I'll have... a coffee."
Janeway eyed her over the rim of the mug. "Celes, I asked what you would like, not what you think I would want you to have. Try again. I happen to know that you are not one of my crew who insists on reducing the coffee supplies on this ship."
Celes flushed to the roots of her hair. "I'm sorry, Captain... I'll have..." Her mind went blank.
Janeway watched her with a benevolent expression. "You know Celes, the reason I asked you here today is because I want to help you to make some decisions about your future on Voyager. Consider your drink order the first of these choices."
Celes covered her astonishment badly. "Vulcan spice tea, if you please Ma'am."
"A wise choice." Janeway punched buttons and presented her with the mug of tea. She waved a hand at the couch. "Sit down, make yourself comfortable. I've asked the Commander to join us. He should be here any minute. Did he see you come in?"
"The whole bridge saw me come in," said Celes miserably. "I tripped over the steps. "
She sat, cradling her mug of tea and waited for the axe to fall. Since the away mission when she had performed so poorly, she had been on tenterhooks waiting for this summons. The Captain, Billy Telfer, Mortimer Harren and she had gone on what was supposed to be a simple away mission to investigate a gaseous nebula. Celes had realized early on that it was a flimsily disguised excuse to encourage three different crewmen, each with their own reasons for underachievement. The mission had turned bad, Billy had been injured and all of them had nearly died before being beamed unconscious into sickbay at the last moment. She didn't know what the Captain intended to do with her, but she wasn't looking forward to finding out.
The door of the ready room opened to admit Chakotay. He crossed to the replicator, ordered himself a cup of tea and took the seat in front of the viewport.
"How are you, Crewman Tal?" He smiled his sincere smile, and Celes felt the unexpected warmth of his approval. She didn't know why he was supporting her, but it cheered her.
She smiled tentatively back. "Fine thank you, Commander."
Janeway steepled her fingers. "We all know why we're here," she said. "We need to find your true niche on this ship, Celes. I have some ideas, so has Chakotay, but this is about you. "
She waved her coffee cup in emphasis. "You have to tell us what you want. There are no wrong answers here." Celes watched the coffee wash dangerously close to the rim.
The Captain took another gulp. "Chakotay, why don't you begin?"
"I pulled up your Starfleet admission files, Celes," he began. "And while I see you scored adequately in the science doctrines, it seems to me, and I think you will agree that science isn't really where you are happiest."
He flashed her the disarming grin again, and Celes felt the corners of her mouth tug up in response.
"You are an intelligent young woman," he said. "Empathic, sensitive to others, good with your hands. Your peer evaluations on this ship all come back very positive. People like having you around; they say you are a good listener, willing to help anyone and are unfailingly cheerful. " He paused and Celes felt the blush creep out of her turtleneck and spread over her cheeks. Really, who would have thought she would be sitting here, listening to the Commander saying these nice things about her? She stole a glance at the Captain. She was watching the Commander, nodding her agreement.
"Celes?" With a start she realized that the Captain had asked her a question and was waiting for her answer.
"Sorry, Captain." The flush of embarrassment was creeping up her neck again, but in bemusement she realized that the command team didn't seem annoyed, on the contrary, they were smiling benevolently at her.
"I asked you if working in sick bay appealed to you?" Janeway repeated her question.
"I couldn't," Celes blurted out, then clapped a hand over her mouth. "The Doctor would be throwing me out the airlock after one shift."
Janeway quirked her mouth and smiled at the Commander as if she was not in the room. "See, Chakotay? I said she would need more convincing than that."
"So convince her, Kathryn."
Celes moved her eyes unobtrusively from one to the other, her intuition picking up the vibes and unspoken warmth flowing between them.
"She's doing it again," Chakotay nodded his head in her direction. "Reading more into people than they outwardly show her. An admirable trait for a Medical Assistant."
Medical Assistant. Celes brought herself back to the ready room with a mental shake. "Commander, Seven doesn't trust me to run the simplest astrometric calculations unsupervised. I doubt that the Doctor would trust me to administer a headache cure."
Janeway leaned over the desk. "I think you might be surprised, " she said. "Helping people feel well again isn't as impersonal as star charts. You can give it a try if you wish, but you don't have to."
Celes hesitated. The idea has appeal, but she was still leery of committing herself. Deep down, she felt she would be no more useful as a nurse than she was in Astrometrics. And the Doctor was as abrasive a personality as Seven, with an equally low tolerance for inefficiency.
Chakotay noticed. "We have other ideas," he offered. "Hear them too. You don't have to decide on the spot."
"What else is there," she asked. "Is this where the waitress in the mess hall comes in?"
Janeway gave her an encouraging smile. "Not the waitress," she said, "our crew doesn't need waiting on. But Neelix could use an assistant. One who, how shall we put it," her eyes danced with amusement, "one who better understands the palates and tastes of this crew."
"With your creativity and people skills it could be a rewarding position," added Chakotay.
"I don't know," said Celes uncertainly. "I like the sound of that, but I've never done much cooking."
"Sounds like someone else I know." Chakotay's eyes flickered sideways to Janeway. "She had never cooked much until suddenly she had to. Before that, she couldn't even boil water at her own admission."
The room was suddenly heavy with a sweet tension she recognized, but didn't understand. The command team's eyes were locked together, in some silent communication she didn't share.
Janeway broke the silence by standing up and coming around the desk. "Think about it," she urged "Have you any suggestions yourself? After six years on board, you have surely formed your own opinion of where you want to be."
"Not really, Captain." Celes was quiet in her indecision. She wanted to come up with some brilliant and unfilled position on the ship where she could shine, but she knew that such a niche just didn't exist, not for her anyway.
"You don't have to decide now," said Janeway. "Those are two options for you, there are others. Maybe you have some yourself. If you want to try either of them, let the Commander know and he can set it up for you." She smiled. "You can go, Celes. Think about what we've said. This is a long trip, we want you to be happy."
Celes left the room, walking across the bridge, deep in thought. She stood outside the turbolift; eyes fixed on the doors.
"It comes faster if you summon it." Harry Kim's hand waved in front of her eyes as he pressed the button for her. "Penny for them."
"For what?" She raised dark eyes to his face. "Oh, my thoughts. Not worth it."
The lift arrived and she and Harry entered. "I've finished my shift," he said by way of explanation. "I'm going to the mess hall. Care to join me for lunch?"
She hesitated, yet again, then emboldened by Captain Janeway's demand that she say what she really wanted, she smiled at him. "Well, if you are sure. I'll try not to tip my tea in your lap."
"I'm sure," said Harry. "I thought you might like some one to talk to about this morning, I've been told I'm a good sounding board." He looked so hopeful and puppy-boy appealing that Celes had to laugh.
"You just want to know what's going on," she said.
They entered the mess hall and Harry's friend, Tom, waved at them from a corner table, where he was sitting with Lieutenant Torres and several other crewmembers. "Harry! Over here!"
"Later, Tom," called Harry, and escorted Celes to one of the quieter, smaller tables on the other side of the hall. Celes noted with amusement, that before they could join the line for dinner, Neelix was already bustling over to them, his whiskers stiff with curiosity.
No romance here, Neelix, she thought in amused tolerance for the kindly chef, and not a morale crisis that you need worry about. She remembered the Commander's suggestion that she might consider working in the mess hall and started to consider the option.
"Harry, Celes." Neelix's furry grin was threatening to split his face. "Let me bring you something. The aagali potato cakes are very good today,"
"Sounds good," she gave him a quick, diffident smile. "I'll have those,"
"Me too," added Harry. He waited until Neelix bustled off, then said, "So, want to tell me what had you summoning the turbolift by mind control alone?"
"Nothing much," she said. "Just contemplating my future here on the ship."
"That doesn't sound like 'nothing much' to me," said Harry, "that sounds like a pretty serious topic."
"I guess." Celes raised troubled dark eyes to her companion. "I just don't know where I see my future here. There doesn't seem to be a niche for me like there is for most of the crew."
"Want to talk about it?" Harry's eyes were kind as he studied her. "We all have our difficulties. Look at me," he gestured depreciatingly at his collar, "nearly seven years and still an ensign."
"That's not your fault," Celes pointed out in stout defense. "There is not exactly a lot of opportunity for promotion around here. And you are a trusted member of the senior staff. Me now, I'm just an ordinary crewman. A very ordinary, useless crewman."
Harry studied her. "Don't put yourself down, Celes," he said. "I've read the Captain's report from that mission. Not many people would have defied orders as you did. Most people would have been stampeding for the escape pods."
Celes twisted a corner of the napkin. "I just wanted to do what was right. The Captain does so much for us, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I had left her there alone."
Harry covered her hand with his own and leant forward. She tried not to jerk in surprise at the unexpected touch. "Well, I think you were very brave. So does Captain Janeway. And I know she didn't call you there this morning for nothing, so spill it. Maybe I can help you decide."
Neelix's arrival with their dinner saved her from a reply. She studied the bustling little Talaxian, noticing that he hardly had a minute as he placed their dinner down, gave them a genuine smile and a reassuring squeeze of Harry's shoulder before dashing back to rescue his sizzling pots from the burner. She noticed his unflagging joviality and tireless movement. Nice that he had a moment to reassure Harry, although she wondered why. Harry didn't appear to need any support.
"If you were unwanted on the bridge," Celes began, "where would you prefer to work: in the mess hall or in sickbay?"
Harry put down his fork and studied her. "I don't believe these are the only options."
"No, " she admitted, "but they are the ones suggested so far."
"By the Captain?"
"Commander Chakotay. But both of them said they wanted me to decide for myself. I just can't think of any other options."
Harry pretended to consider. "Let me think. Where on this ship would a considerate, intelligent, empathic and beautiful crewman want to work?"
She blushed at his words and kept her eyes lowered on her plate, picking over the spicy potato cakes with her fork.
"Airponics bay, ships councilor, medical science, personnel..." Harry ticked off suggestions on his fingers. He touched her hand again, and this time she relished his casual touch. "Let's work out a plan that you can take back to the Captain. Are you going anywhere right now? "
"I thought I'd drop into Deep Space 9 for a little shopping," she said, "but other than that I'm going nowhere."
"Good." Harry shifted his chair closer and pulled out a padd. "Lets get working."
He is a very kind person, she reflected as she watched his hands, confidently tapping the padd. Kind and handsome. I wonder why he's bothering with me?
This time when Celes entered the bridge, she knew her way to the ready room. Harry winked at her from his position at Ops but didn't come to escort her. The command chairs were empty; Captain and Commander must be waiting for her. She hurried her pace.
"Enter." The Captain bade her entrance. "Something to drink, Crewman?"
"Yes please, Captain. I'd like green tea if I may."
"A good choice," offered Chakotay. "Ensign Kim is partial to the blend."
"Yes, he introduced me to it. He has seventeen different blends in his replicator." Celes shut up abruptly, realizing she was babbling, and had given away more than she intended. She lowered her eyes quickly and missed the amused exchange of glances between the command team.
"You wanted to see us, Celes?" Janeway smiled at her from behind the enormous mug of coffee.
"Yes, Captain. I have given some thought to your suggestions about my place on this ship. " Smile, she told herself. Act confident. Remember that Harry at least believes in me. "And I have a suggestion."
Janeway leant forward. "We're listening."
"I truly do not know where I would best fit on this ship, but I would like to try a couple of them. Here," she pushed a padd towards Janeway. "This proposes a rotating schedule, giving me blocks of time assisting in different departments over the next month. Then at the end of the time, you can place me where you think best, based upon the feedback you get from the department heads."
Janeway was scrolling through the padd. "Sickbay, the mess hall, airponics, these are all excellent choices, Celes. I don't see a problem with this." She came to the end of the padd. "What's this one? Personnel? We don't have a personnel department."
'I know," said Celes, "but I think we need one. Har.. " She corrected herself quickly. "It has been suggested that I have the qualities to make a good ship's councilor. Maybe I can extend that role past the traditional one, and help people like me have happier, more productive lives on board. That could be helping them design small changes to their working environment or assisting in other departments to give them broader skills, or helping them find a satisfying hobby. After all, when we get home, the more skills we all have the more useful we'll all be." She flashed a smile at the command team. "And we will get home. I have no doubt at all about it."
Bemusedly she watched Captain and Commander exchange a look that could only be called dewy-eyed.
The Captain cleared her throat. "Thank you for the vote of confidence. Chakotay, what do you think? After all, some of what Celes is proposing has traditionally been part of your job."
The Commander's eyes were approving. "I think it's an excellent suggestion. I'm happy for Celes to contribute in this way. I don't know if there is enough in it to keep someone occupied full time though."
"No, I don't think there is," Celes agreed. "That is why I'm also going to be working in sickbay and other places. I'm sure I'll find somewhere I can fit, Captain. I'll make sure of it."
"I'm sure you will."
Celes was buoyed by the Captain's obvious approval.
The Captain tapped the padd. "So tomorrow you will start your rotation in sickbay? Is the Doctor aware of this?"
"Yes, Captain. He said he would start teaching me medical assistant's duties." She tamped down her nervousness at the thought of working with the abrasive doctor. Harry had told her he was sweet underneath his brusque exterior.
"Very good." Janeway stood, indicating the meeting was at an end. "Report back to us at the end of the month."
Chakotay watched the doors close behind Cele's straight back. He turned to Kathryn. She was watching the door the Celes had left through, a slight smile on her face.
"Pleased with the success of your idea?" He took the chair opposite her.
"Yes. I think that is one more stray lamb returned to the fold. She'll find a worthwhile place for herself on board. And Tal and Harry; it's a good match I think."
Chakotay smiled."Yes, Harry is certainly walking on air these days."
I'm only sorry it took us - -and her - so long to find her place." Kathryn's eyes were far away.
Chakotay reached over the desk and took her hand."Some things are worth waiting for Kathryn, never forget that." His thumb caressed the back of her hand and his eyes held a wealth of meaning.
She clasped his hand in return."I won't forget," she promised."The best things in life come to those who wait."
He lifted their joined hands briefly to his lips, before releasing her and striding out, back to the bridge.
Celes keyed in the code for Harry's quarters and let herself in. Harry wasn't there yet; his shift didn't end for another twenty minutes, so she had a little time to prepare. Swiftly she laid the small table with his china, and placed a couple of scented candles on the table. She danced over to the replicator, and programmed in her choice, bubbling in anticipation of relating her day to Harry. She just had time to dim the lights when she heard the sound of the door. She remained at the viewport, and felt two solid arms wrap around her from behind.
Harry nuzzled her neck as his arms tightened around her."Something smells good in here," his tongue flickered out and lapped at her neck."Something tastes good in here too."
Celes turned in his embrace and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him soundly."I missed you. You weren't on the bridge when I went to see the Captain and Commander."
Harry kissed the corner of her mouth."No, I was in Astrometrics." He made a face. "That wasn't much fun; Seven was in a pedantic mood and everything I did was wrong in her eyes."
Celes made a moue of sympathy, eyes dancing. This was a common whine of Harry's. She kissed him instead, enjoying the touch of his tongue and his smooth hairless skin under her hand.
Harry kissed her back for a moment then broke away. He led her to the viewport and sat down, holding both of her hands on his thighs."But, today was the important meeting. Tell me how it went."
Cele's enthusiasm bubbled over."They said I could continue! They said it was working really well, feedback from the crew was positive. You are looking," she tore her hands from Harry and struck a pose,"at Voyager's councilor and personnel officer. And part-time medical assistant," she added.
Harry grinned."So the Doctor gave you a good review?"
"The best! He said I had the makings of an excellent medical assistant, that I was caring, calm in an emergency and intelligent." She caught her breath slightly, as she recalled the unexpected words of praise."He said it in front of the Captain too. And you know the best bit?" She continued without pausing for his reply,"they approved my first personnel change. Billy Telfer will be working in the mess hall for half of his duty shifts. Neelix finally has an assistant." She hugged herself with glee at her first small success.
Harry caught her up in a hug, pushing her back on the couch and pushing his hands up into the dark mass of her hair."I'm not surprised," he said."I always said my brilliant and beautiful Celes would find her place on this ship."
Celes ran her hands firmly over his back."I have," she said."And being with you is one of the best parts of it."
Harry had no good answer for that, so he kissed her again.
Feedback? Please. Shayenne
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